Type
Fiction

Salmonella excretion in joy-riding pigs

Salmonella Excretion in Joy-Riding Pigs1

I. Let me be clear I have no feeling for pigs. I eat them, etcetera. When I was a child I had some kind of feeling for pigs but then I attempted to make my own pig with a pink sock and some cotton wool and a needle and thread. This, according to the instructions in a favourite book of mine. I followed these instructions exactly but the pig did not turn out as a pig. As a result I lost faith in the book. And any feeling I had for pigs went away.

II. The plan was to select a part of a group of pigs approaching the age of slaughter. Using rectal swabs, we would examine this group of pigs on the farm and find their salmonellae excretion rate by this method. We would then take a truck that had been cleaned and made free from salmonellae, and load these pigs upon it as if they were going to be slaughtered. However, rather than taking them to slaughter, we would give them a joy ride through the countryside and end the trip, not at the slaughterhouse but back at their home farm. We were then going to repeat this experiment on the same pigs at a later date, but this time deliver them to slaughter.

III. It must be said that the sky that day was exceptionally blue. The grass in that part of the country was short and yellow and warm. The air was sweet. The temperature was warm, unseasonably so, with the sun at full force at eight o’clock.

IV. Clay drove the truck through the gate and parked in front of the barn.

V. The pigs in their pens sleep, fart and burp. They have the stench about them of prophetic children. The sheer width of her snout, for example, and the breadth of her hide, and the way when she lies down she lies down just there. The skin of her legs bunch in preposterous rolls. Her ribs, somewhere, and her silk teats, shift and shudder as she breathes. She is cataclysmic in her pink size. Unsubtle and unforgiveable in her full capacity.

VI. When we arrived at the farm I got out of the truck to unlatch the gate. The truck was a stake-bed, single-axle farm truck with solid sides and a slat tailgate. It had been cleaned with live steam, allowed to dry, and sprayed – this all in preparation for the experiment.

VII. The experiment was commissioned by the university and was intended to examine the effect of stress on the excretion of salmonellae by pigs. We called it ‘the experiment of the joy-riding pigs’ because it was based upon a confidence trick played upon a pig population.We wanted to prove that salmonellae are found in swine in holding pens and at slaughter, when they were previously uninfected, because the animals infect each other, due to stress. We thought that the stress of transportation, overcrowding, and rough handling before slaughter caused the pigs stress which made them excrete. The excretion caused infection, and the infection was shared.

VIII. Something that is little known about pigs is that they show symptoms of stress even after death. It is a greyish coloured fluid that seeps out of the meat when the pork is encased in sealed packaging.

IX. She was calm, from the first. She did not understand anything as strange. She was UR342 and I was Professor Rodney Moore, who, along with my assistant, Clay, were at Yates Aller’s farm3 to conduct the first routine rectal swab and then load the pigs on the truck, take them out.

X. Animal care and experimental protocols were approved by the University Animal Care and Use Committee, beforehand.

XI. But if you ask me I’ll say the event which altered the course of my life was already in the air, which was warm, and in the short, yellow grass which smelled so sweet. Uncharacteristically sweet for that time of year.

XII. What I’ll say is that on the day I am recounting for you something burst open in me which has not closed down ever since. I dare say it never will. I, for example, get little sun in this place but occasionally it comes extremely flowing in, flowing endlessly in, for a short time after dawn. And I wake up. And my neck hurts, my neck hurts. But there is the sun.

XIII. See, there are things I deeply miss and circumstances in my life I regret, but here’s the sun.

XIV. Let me tell you the tiny story of how I got here:

a) The farm we selected housed three hundred pigs. The pens were covered and were washed each morning, insuring good sanitation. The pigs were fed stale bread, rolls, cakes, and other bakery items (including their wrappers), which had been through a hammermill. In other words this pen was in a pristine state and there was nothing which should obstruct a smooth run in this case.

b) The twenty pigs selected for the study had been feeders. UR342 was one of these but I knew this before Clay pointed her out. I’ll not say the word but I’ll tell you when I saw her, sleeping in the pen, her extraordinary pink body black in places with shit and dirt, something opened in me. Her huge snout, her whiskers, twitched in her sleep.

c) I unlatched the gate. There was this series of gates. I look back on it now and I can see myself, walking through.

d) When I unlatched the gate she opened one eye but did not bother with the next. This one eye followed me, as I approached her in the pen. I felt this black eye on me, like burning, as I lifted up her tail. I am ashamed now to admit it but at this stage in things I did not know where I was and I still lived in the first world I had lived in all my life until I lay eyes on her, UR342.

e) It took me, for example, some time to see. But it wasn’t long. Actually in this world such things don’t take so long. Nevertheless, nevertheless. I carried out my job. Clay backed up the truck and we took the rectal swabs and we loaded the pigs, like we’d planned, in the truck.

f) ‘Say, around eleven?’ Clay said, who would begin the writing up.
‘Sure thing,’ I said. I climbed into the truck.

g) The pigs were quiet. Pigs are always this way right up until the point where they know what’s going on, definitely. Then they shriek.

h) The joy ride was supposed to last three-quarters of an hour. I had packed sandwiches and apples and a thermos of tea. As I drove something mattered, some absence kicked at me. My lunch bag slipped and jumped in the passenger seat but some image, some vision, captivated me.

i) I pulled over in the shade of a group of orange trees. I went around the back and unlatched the bar. I pulled down the tray and all the pigs streamed on out. Nineteen pigs streamed out but one of them stayed. I climbed into the tray and caught her by the ear and she climbed down off the truck and walked beside me, around to the passenger door. I opened the door and showed her the way but she weighed two hundred pounds and I couldn’t get her in. Then I showed her the apples. She reared up like a racehorse and got her two front hooves in the cab. She allowed me to place both my hands on her buttocks and I heaved, respectfully.

j) We rode. I fed her apples and tuna sandwiches one after the next. We rode with the window down. The sweet air ticked at her throat. The hair on her stiff ears moved like leaves.

k) We rode until the sun had long past that point in the sky and I’ll say this honestly, I never felt so alive. Occasionally I reached over and handled her front hoof. I wrapped my hand around her hand thinking she was my wife. Thinking I was the luckiest man with UR342 by my side.

l) The truck came to a stop naturally. I climbed out first. She sat in the driver’s seat, staring straight ahead. She was tired, I could see this, but we also had to move. The country was cooling, it was that time of day, and the motor in the distance was growing close.

m) We walked until she could not walk anymore. Then we slept. We did not sleep in the biblical sense. We slept as trees. Culled. Curled one into the next. Yes, I held her. He found us this way.

n) Clay.

◊ I will not forget the look on his face because it was this look which told me I’d left that lonely world and I’d entered this one, a much better place. The rules are very simple, I said this much to him. But he didn’t want to listen. Instead, he pinned me down. And UR342 staggered to her feet. She started up this shriek. Then she ran away.

• I was devastated.

• I acted out of grief.

º There’s a grief in a man where he can do anything. I had no other weapon but these two very hands and the earth under us grew harder and harder, every blow.

⋅ What I didn’t know was human heads are so much harder than the earth and you have to work extremely hard to break them down.

 

1This is a stolen title. Williams LP, Jr, Newell KW. ‘Salmonella excretion in joy-riding pigs’, Am J Public Health Nations Health, May 1970; 60 (5): 926–929.

 

Read the rest of 237.5: autumn fiction edited by Allan Drew

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Ashleigh Synnott lives in Sydney. Her stories, poems and essays have appeared in print and online in publications such as Overland, Meanjin, Antipodes and Southerly. Ashleigh is represented by the Jane Novak Literary Agency.

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